Jubilee Square at Leeds General Infirmary puts art at centre stage.
Environmental artist Tess Jaray's earlier public commissions at Wakefield Cathedral Precinct and Birmingham's Centenary Square created broad sweeps of patterned brick paving. Her latest work at Leeds General Infirmary takes a new tack - a sinuous but muscular landscape of sumptuously curved structures and polychromatic brickwork
Hospitals can be daunting places to enter, be it as in-patient, out-patient or visitor. Concentrating facilities in large regional centres makes sense in terms of healthcare economics and efficient use of resources, but the scale implicit in this policy can make hospitals dwarfing and alienating places, with functionality squeezing out humanity.
At Leeds General Infirmary (LGI), where the major £90 million Jubilee Wing redevelopment has recently been completed, the fact was fully acknowledged early in the development by the hospital trust and addressed through a proactive policy of using the arts to enhance the therapeutic environment. This is pursued by Arts in Healthcare, which is the arts programme of the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.
The role of the arts in LGI's re-development is substantial. At its core is the design for the hospital approach, Jubilee Square itself, the commission won by environmental artist Tess Jaray in limited competition.
Context and site
The new seven-storey Jubilee Wing is at the heart of the redevelopment, one of the largest to be undertaken by the NHS. It houses Accident & Emergency, outpatient departments, the Yorkshire Heart Centre, neurosurgery, clinical radiology, operating theatres and support services.
Jubilee Square, the hospital approach, is a sloping site of 4,250m2, a bowl-like space enclosed by the mass of the new wing and retained hospital buildings on three sides and by Clarendon Way to the north. It is overlooked from that main road by a 14-storey car park and by a series of grim high- rise blocks beyond. Close to the centre of Leeds and highly visible, it was of keen interest to the city planners who encouraged bringing an artist's vision to the design of this important public space.
The design aims to turn a potentially intimidating encounter into one of comfort and reassurance, creating a place unique to the city and offering the eye something of character and beauty wherever it turns. There is a precedent for going beyond pure functionality. The Grade I-listed Sir George Gilbert Scott Building, to which the new wing is linked, boasts decorative brickwork, stained glass, mosaic and woodcarving.
But the design's aesthetic and emotional aspirations had to work within tight economic constraints (despite winning substantial Lottery funding) and to cater for many types of user - the partially sighted, disabled and able-bodied - arriving in a variety of transport - by ambulance, bus, car or on foot. It needs both to soothe and to signal, generating calm and clarifying circulation. Movement and flow
Jaray's design is based on circles, curves and flow, organic forms within a semi-formal organisation. The scale, movement and richness of its individual elements are intended as a counterpoint to the mass and rectangular geometry of the surroundings, while the materials, predominantly red and blue extruded bricks, are in keeping with the Leeds tradition.
Pedestrians entering from Clarendon Way pass a large brick drum structure tucked into the sweep of a high retaining wall and the first in a series of curving planters, in smooth red brick. More planters follow, seeming to flow down the slope towards the circular hub of the main entrance, which is signalled, celebrated even, by an island planter. In this important feature a central circle sits within tiered mini-arcs of planters curving around it, setting up a motif which recurs in Jaray's design for the lighting, benches and railings.
The planters in Jubilee Square are pivotal to its identity, quality and functioning. They are substantial and carefully detailed structures whose construction entailed close collaboration between artist and brickmaker to develop the many purpose-designed bricks needed.
They are tiered and terraced, responding to the sloping site. Their retaining walls are deep, with copings designed for sitting. Complex rounded profiles set up interesting plays of light and shadow. And there's a sensual, fluid quality to them. They scroll at changes of level, reinforcing the sense of movement and softness, which is followed through in the planting. Successive flowering of three different types of lavender within box hedging gives fragrance and colour between April and October and may generate income too: there are plans to harvest and sell it in aid of hospital charities.
The texture of English bond
Jaray prefers the rhythm and texture of English bond brickwork and specified it both for the planters and for the patterned walling which represents her first substantial work in the vertical plane. These include a 45m long retaining wall curving into the site from Clarendon Way, a circular pressure-reduction unit and a vent outlet.
The retaining wall, 5m high on the hospital side, rises as a plinth of red and blue striped brickwork, changing to plain red with a simple stud pattern of projecting headers and succeeded by a frieze in the same combination of blue engineering and white glazed bricks. The treatment, drawing on Sumerian patterns, introduces new shadow lines, movement and sheen into an otherwise formidable mass.
Brick cladding, in variations on the same theme, disguises the potential eyesore of a large gas pressure reduction unit. By contrast, the circular vent outlet is in solid brick masonry, built, because of its small diameter, in radial specials rather than standard bricks, with blue and white headers creating a jaunty zigzag.
Apart from the tarmac of the vehicle route, the main surface is concrete block paving, This provides a light but neutral canvas in contrast to the rich colours and shapes of the brickwork. Simple bands of red and blue brick pavers around the brick structures make them seem to grow from the landscape.
Despite what Jaray describes as the square's 'bus station role' there's an intimate feel to it, one that should grow as the planting matures. It also provides a fine setting for five sculptures by Tom Lomax, who worked with Jaray on development and detailing.
Inside there's more newly commissioned art, funded by sponsorship, throughout the new building. It's further evidence of Arts in Healthcare's vigorous pursuit of a rich visual environment, one which has already been shown to bring tangible benefits. In one particular ward recovery times have fallen by a day, with a parallel reduction in medication. Health ministers, please note.
The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust
Architect for Jubilee Wing:
Arts in Healthcare
Design for Jubilee Square:
Tess Jaray in collaboration with Tom Lomax
HBG Construction, Haden Young (joint venture)